Of Mice, Men and Lumps

In this modern world where the bland and the safe seem to be more commercially acceptable than the cutting edge, and thought provoking work gets little traction, it’s hard to maintain a positive perspective on the music industry. Operating outside of the norms of that industry is one action which gives blessed relief from the mundane. Self releasing and self promoting is hard work, it will cost you money, and time, and it may not reap the financial results that might be deserved, but you will at least get your music out there. When we set up German Shepherd records nearly three years ago now we had no real plan, we had some ground rules, and some small objectives, but we didn’t have an end game. Perhaps that was a good thing. Expectations might have been too high. There is frustration in this. A sense of disappointment that music we genuinely feel deserves to be heard and enjoyed isn’t getting the sort of exposure that others are. But we carry on.  By Christmas we will have released 53 albums, EPs and singles this year. Some will say that is too much, they might be right, but it came in, we liked it and so we sent it out into the world.

The 49th of those releases is from Moss Skellington. Those who know what we do will realise that this is a partnership between Ian “Moet” Moss (aka House Mouse) and Moff Skellington. The two have collaborated on two previous singles, and two live events, in the last 18 months. The time was right for an album.

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The methodology is fairly simple. Ian writes some words, and sometimes narrates them into a sound file. Moff builds a musical world around them with his battery of unique instruments. The component parts are then sent over to me for a degree of cutting, pasting, and fettling, and then Ian and Moff may add more vocals. The resulting whole is then mixed and mastered for sending out into the world. This eschews the need for expensive recording studios and other such trammels of the music industry. Most of it is done on a home studio, a phone, and a lap-top. These things are possible nowadays.

The album is called “The Lump” and comprises seven tracks. It represents two artists at their creative peak who are both cutting edge and thought provoking. The music is grounded in traditional folk forms but don’t be put off by that genre description. This is the folk of Comus and that ilk, not some chap in a woolly jumper with a finger in his ear. it is folk with bits added, a hint of Tom Waits, a smattering of Pere Ubu, a dusting of Fripp and Eno, an echo of Faust, a whimsy of Kevin Ayers, and nod towards modern urban forms like grime.  Moss’s well renowned vocals and lyrics are of course the centre piece, but the added value is Moff’s particular use of music to create new and vivid backdrops for the words.

moff-moet

The subject matter is intriguing, the title track appears to be medical in it’s nature but on closer examination is revealed to have much deeper meaning. The combination of dark urban synth sounds, blues harmonica and squeeze box is utterly unique. “Chalk and Cheese”, which has a great call and response between the two protagonists, describes relationships in a honest way. “Look at the Fool”, with african rhythms from Moff,  is a piece of Moss biting wit which requires close hearing. “Posh Nosh” derides the current obsession with food in the “Masterchef” era. “Serial Killing” is a dark tale of murder and mayhem on the underground. The 17 minute “The Mouse Engine” is a magnum opus which takes you through a word-scape which Lewis Carroll would have been proud off, rich with imagery, and utterly marvellous. The album closes with the plaintive waltz “The Other Side of the Looking Glass” which offers a glimmer of hope for the future.

Exceptional , unique and stunning. It should be listened to and is a primer for outsider music. it is released via German Shepherd Records on 25th November 2016.

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A Post Modernist Road Movie

West Coast Sick Line

The Road to Billinge Hill

German Shepherd

1st August 2014

Billinge Front Adjusted Black Border Option 1

When it comes around to album of the year it will be a straight up fight between Kill Pretty‘s “Bubblegum Now!”, which hopefully will be out in September, and this third outing from West Coast Sick Line.

And yes I know that  there have been plenty of great albums this year already, and no doubt there will be a lot more to come, but I am convinced that nothing else will come close to what we have here, and the aforementioned planned double CD set from the Pretty ones.

We’ve been building up to this of course, the progress from “Hope You All Have Nightmares, Except Kirsty” through “Our Name on the Door” to this collection of songs is evident and immensely pleasing. The trade mark Dusty Moonan tunes are here, but Stacey Bates is clearly a more potent force in the partnership this time around. The writing has moved up a notch, and as usual it’s lyrically excellent with the usual balance of wry humour, intemperate ranting and sardonic observation.

There is a sort of concept thing going on here, a journey if you would, but it’s not a linear tale, more a series of observations. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end but they aren’t obvious, a post modernist take on a love story perhaps?

The journey starts with a train announcement from Colwyn Bay station mapping out a journey east to Greater Manchester – the drums kick off in tribal style and we are off with a guitar riff in Knack territory with Moonan venting through filtered vocals. A great opener. The short “Keep Her Talking” with its call and response between Dusty and Stacey is a breathtakingly glam-tastic slice of pop-punk. With “You Again” Bates is to the fore with a stunning vocal performance via a tune which echoes Dusty Springfield, an amazing song which places North Wales kitchen sink drama in a para-Motown world – Moonan plays clever little musical tricks, dropping referential hints, the song moves from moody UK soul to straight out rock and roll with effortless wonder, it’s like he has extracted the high points of UK pop over the last 40 years and distilled them in an impossibly wonderful song. Imagine Burt Bacharach co-writing a tune with Godley & Creme with orchestration by John Barry.

“Polygramme Video” is repetitive  in an ear-worm sense, Dusty looks back to the days of VHS/Betamax wars with a caustic wit.

“Into Ya Home” is a typical Moonan rant focusing on some sort of tirade against the middle classes – insanely catchy glam-rock hooks, pumping beats and funky bass, with some sexy uttering from Stacey, make this rather special.

“Wasp In The Car” is pure genius – echoing Roy Wood at his best – the Beatles come to mind as well – both the lyrics and the melodic development is mesmerising taking 60s pop hooks and placing them very firmly in the 21st century. Compare this say with Elbow and their recent releases and this frankly wipes the floor with the Bury misanthropes.

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The second half of the album gets a little more experimental and varied- “Harry Christ” is an acoustic led exploration – I wasn’t sure about it at first but it grows on repeat plays into an impressive tour de force.

“Be The Sunrider” deals with the myth that “Blade Runner” the film was filmed at Stanlow Power Station, “Roundabouts of Birchwood” gets into rock and roll/jive territory no doubt will sound great live, and concludes with a self-deprecating comment.

The last ten minutes of the album are breath-taking – the epic “Bubonic Church” is a triumph of light and shade – with a catchy refrain builds into a crescendo chorus. They say you should always leave them wanting more and closing track “She Reads Subtitles Aloud” certainly does the trick. Starting with a basic guitar line and matching vocals it develops into a catchy pop/rock tune, which then morphs into a piece of experimental word play and then resolves in a superb coda. If you aren’t immediately pressing the repeat play button on this one then I despair of you!

If you want a comparison or two lets say Todd Rundgren at his most inventive, 10CC at their height and in terms of structure and content, but not necessarily sound, I guess i’m looking at something like The Go-Betweens “Tallulah” or “Hex Enduction Hour” by The Fall. There is real genius at work here and you need to listen.

And here is a virtual interview conducted via cyberspace with Dusty about the album…..

So,  the third album – what were you hoping to achieve?

 This was supposed to be our second album. However, the guys didn’t like the idea at the time. In retrospect, they were right as ‘Our name on the door’ really did depict where we were. Getting drunk and having fun.  The Pop element of it kicked down doors and introduced us to an audience we may never have got if we went straight into a concept album at that point. ‘Kirsty’ has a vague theme and I wanted ‘Our Name’ to do too, but it didn’t and that’s just the way it went. But I didn’t want another Pop album this time. If we tried to do stuff like ‘The North’ or ‘431’ again it would have felt like we were forcing it.

States (Stacey Bates)  is more of a partner in this release – was that deliberate?

States being more involved was totally deliberate. There have been so many occasions where I have listened to the previous two albums and wished she sang more. Ever since I came back from Glasgow three years ago she has been the only constant when everyone else has come and gone. I really wanted her to take the lead on some from the start, but it’s difficult, as I write impulsively. It was a happy accident that the parts she sung on sound like they were written for her as she does such a great job,  “You Again”, which I think she could have written herself. One of my favourite aspects of Billinge is States being involved so much.

Is it a concept album? What’s the underlying message.

The concept initially came about because I’ve been accused of always writing in character. I find it’s a good disclaimer for when I write something a bit lewd. I still do on this album, but much of it is from personal experience. Even stuff like family troubles. Some of the lyrics are uncomfortably personal, but I lighten them up with humor so they sound more flippant. It kind of freaked me out a bit when I got too close.

My whole world until the age of about 22 was Colwyn Bay to Wigan and all in between. The fictional part comes in the form of the characters in the story. It’s based on a teenage love lost when the girl moves to Billinge leaving the main protagonist in Colwyn Bay. Some of it is based on real relationships where you mould them all into one, then its part road story about getting to Billinge by any means to rekindle the love that died 20 years before.

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There is a strong 60s feel on some tracks – do you agree?

Yeah, I agree. A bit 70’s too. I’m unsure if some of that comes from the players. Like Dragan’s drums or Mark’s Piano. Some of the nervous energy that dominated the previous two albums was gone and I think the songs are more crafted. I hate that term ‘Crafted’, makes me sound like a twat. But the songs rely more on dynamics and emotion, rather than fun jams. I possibly wanted to conform on the previous album, but it was important that this album sounded exactly how I felt. A journey we can take the listener on. Pleasing anyone was the last thing on my mind in regards to how commercial the songs were. I thought we had enough pop songs on the previous album, so we could please ourselves this time. If any of them sound like singles, that’s fantastic, but it wasn’t deliberate. I think it’s more focused as a result and stands up more as a complete album.

What is Bubonic Church about?

Haha. It was originally the opening track and the story was supposed to start off with a murder. Inspired by Raymond Pettibon’s artwork on Sonic Youth’s ‘Goo’ of  Hindley & Smith. Then the two characters ran off to Billinge. I was talked out of that idea by States, so I came up with the love  story. That’s why ‘Bubonic ‘and ‘Into Ya Home’ sound out of context, lyrically. They are mainly there as I thought they were strong songs. Actually, the folks at German Shepherd talked me into putting “Into Ya Home” on the album. I mean, some of those psychedelic road movies don’t even have a beginning, middle or an end. It has all of them. So the narrative is a lot clearer than some of that stuff.

You are rehearsing the live band at the moment – gigs soon?

We’ve been rehearsing for about two months and we’re just about ready. Got an amazing rhythm section in Nathan & Richie as well as States shocking us all with how quickly she’s picked up the keys. We’ve worked on making the songs more of a performance, so we’ve changed a few things around. One thing is for sure, you won’t be seeing your average shoe gazers when you come to see us.

A limited edition CD version of the album will be available via German Shepherd and for sale at gigs.

The album will be available from German Shepherd from Friday 1st August  – here

 

The Streets of Salford

Various Artists

Salford Streets

German Shepherd Records

1st July 2014

Salford Streets

This is a charity album aimed to raise funds for the new Emmaus Community in Salford. Some time ago I got involved in helping the new community with some promotion and website work and it struck me that if I called in a few favours with some local (and not so local musicians) I might be able to pull together enough tracks to make a decent – and saleable album.

After several months hard work and a lot of cajoling the album is now ready to go – as a digital download – with 35 tracks. The variety of music on show reflects the Salford scene, the wider Manchester musical world, and a number of friends, associates and other ne’er do wells that I have featured on podcasts, seen at gigs, and become friends with – both real and virtual.

The mix of styles reflects what grass roots  music is all about – eschewing the fads and trends of national radio playlists – what we have here is talented, unique and committed musicians and performers – the most of whom do it for love and very little money. So it’s more than gratifying that they have donated these tracks free of charge.

Here’s the political bit – and you will hear me say these words on the title track of the album…..

Homelessness is about more than rooflessness. A home is not just a physical space, it also has a legal and social dimension. A home provides roots, identity, a sense of belonging and a place of emotional wellbeing. Homelessness is about the loss of all of these. It is an isolating and destructive experience and homeless people are some of the most vulnerable and socially excluded in our society.

After years of declining trends, 2010 marked the turning point when all forms of homelessness began to rise. However, it is likely that homelessness will increase yet further, as the delayed effects of the economic downturn, cuts to housing benefit and other reforms all start to bite.

People become and stay homeless for a whole range of complex and overlapping reasons and solving homelessness is about much more than putting a roof over people’s heads. Many homeless people face a number of issues in addition to, but often compounded by, their homelessness. The isolation and destructive nature of homelessness means that homeless people find it difficult to access the help they need.

The charity that will be benefit from the proceeds of this album – Emmaus – seeks to break the cycle of homelessness and worklessness by combining a home with a job. The organisation has been established for a long time, across the world, and in a former life I was part of the team that introduced the idea of having an Emmaus community in the city – so it is very close to my heart. It desperately needs resources to kick off its’ work in Salford. So this album comes at a key time. They are based on Fitzwarren Street in Pendleton, and they are very close to opening. Many volunteers from a wide range of organisations have already spent countless hours converting the building – there are details of this fine work on the local website for Emmaus.

The line up on this release is pretty phenomenal – there are both legends of the local music scene as well as bright young things. There is music from around the UK, and one track from an ex-pat Manc in France. There are brand new previously unreleased exclusive tracks, archive tunes which have never seen the light of day, and fan favourites from bands who have been major part of the gig circuit in recent years.

The music on the album includes rock, punk, pop, electronica, experimental, spoken-word and post-punk – something for everyone.

The album is priced at £3 minimum but we hope people will be generous and pay more – because of the way Bandcamp works around 20% of what people pay will go towards fees to the web host and Paypal – so the more people can donate the better things will be.

And finally here is the roll of honour of the artists who have contributed to this release – we hope, like them you will be generous and support this worthwhile cause.

1. Trigger Happy – Cheers Mate
2. AAAK (As Able As Kane) – Shimmy Shimmy Come On
3. Kill Pretty – Manchester (Early Version)
4. Cinic – Cocaine Revolver
5. Poppycock – Honey Moon
6. Danny Short – Thru With U
7. Crab Dance GIs – Instant Music (Just Add Water)
8. Johann Kloos – In The Clouds
9. Staggs – The Nation’s Favourite
10. Politburo – Kali Madya
11. Taser Puppets – Dim
12. Cryin’ Queerwolf – Less Camp Than Kirk
13. Carl Lingard & Dionne Sandiford – This Life
14. The Junta – Emmaus
15. Monkeys In Love – Hair Transplant
16. Boz Hayward – One More Shut Door
17. Moff Skellington – The testicles of a famous robbers dog
18. Night Operations – Driving Rain
19. Carl Lingard – Waterfall
20. Ubertino De Casale – Oh My God
21. Mistrust – Half Past One
22. The Umbilical Chords – Lone Kimono
23. Gods Gift – Discipline
24. Benefit State – Swingers
25. The Happy Fallen – Open Wide
26. Part Exchange – Attack Decay
27. Modal Roberts – Pompidou
28. Captain Black – The Unrequited
29. Luis Drayton – Die Prettier
30. Space Museum – Ostracised (The Early Mix)
31. Black Light Mutants – Northern Wasteland
32. Factory Acts – Fantasy
33. West Coast Sick Line – She Rasp In Native Tongue
34. DDS – Transmit The Knowledge
35. The Teenage Propshafts – Salford Streets

The album will be available from German Shepherd Records from Midnight 1st July 2014  www.germanshepherdrecords.bandcamp.com

 

 

……by any other name

Rose Niland

From Now

German Shepherd

16th May 2014

Rose Niland ep

Rose Niland is a singer-musician-songwriter from Manchester.

Rose Niland’s music reflects her obsession with the production and development of musical ideas in the studio. Her working process involves using a free-flowing ‘stream-of-conciousness’ approach to composing, capturing the freshness of ideas quickly; these captured random moments are chopped up and moulded into songs that Rose brings to life with her spontaneous vocals. Rose’s debut EP,”From Now” is a selection of her songs composed during the last year.

Rose has created a stunning and innovative sound-scape with the four songs in this EP. Mixing traditional musical elements (guitar, bass, drums) with swirling electronica and exceptional multi-layered vocals, this is a breathtakingly good debut. Her approach mirrors to some degree the performance work of Robert Ashley, albeit couched in a dub soaked ambient world. There’s an other worldly quality to her vocals which capture a wide span of emotions and the music weaves seamlessly through the laminal textures of the voices.

Opener “Dominate”, featuring lyrics from Tamra Smith, uses post-rock/punk stylings under a half-whispered rap as Rose colours the sound with vocal improvisation. “Extended” captures a muezzin quality as visceral synth sounds surge around a dub beat – Rose improvises half formed words which remind me of the word play that Phillip Glass and Robert Wilson used on “Einstien On The Beach”. “Greenest Green” is something special indeed – pushed along by an insistent acoustic guitar Rose sings in a unique style and throws in little snippets of laughter in the background – the song evokes the blues, eastern european songs, and chanson all in one heady mixture – almost operatic in its’ complexity. Closer “Love’s Gone Away” builds around a simple bass line through which choir like vocals tastefully interweave, my only concern is that it is far too short. Many kudos to Rose and Mark Corrin for creating a stunning production.

A sensational first offering from a very talented performer.

Rose is planning live gigs to support the release sometime in the summer. Rose is also one of the singers in Una Baines “Poppycock” band.

Rose Niland Album Cover

 

A New Place To Begin

Twisted Hand

The Master Tapes

German Shepherd

11th April 2014

Twisted Hand 1982

After languishing on tapes for 32 years German Shepherd have received the OK to release the remaining six tracks from the legendary Twisted Hand recordings. Drummer Mike Leigh (The Fall, Rockin’ Ricky and the Velvet Collars, Pearl Divers, The Blimp, and currently Kill Pretty) got hold of the Master Tapes a couple of years back and took it upon himself to have them converted to digital.

After leaving the Fall in the early 80s Leigh spent some time with long time Fall fan Peter Claughan and his band in recording tracks. Three were released on the Short Strings EP which is still available from German Shepherd in limited edition vinyl (very few left) and digitally here.

So at long last we have the other tracks from the recordings made in Kilmarnock between 1980 and 1982. The sound is unmistakably post-punk with elements of influence coming from Echo and the Bunnymen, Siouxie and the Banshees, Joy Division, and Magazine, what sets this apart from those comparisons however, is Leigh’s trade-mark busy drum style, and Claughan’s excellent world-weary vocals.

Had an astute record lable boss at the time been aware of this band and its’ music i’ve no doubt these would have been snapped up sooner. The writing is superb, the playing great, and still sounds fresh all these years later, and Claughan is in fine form. There is a lot of variety between the six tracks and it is great that these have finally been released to the world at large.

The “mini-album” is released a “Pay What You Want” and anyone wishing to donate will be contributing to Mike Leigh’s costs for the conversion of the original master tapes.

 

I couldn’t live in your wrapped up loveless world……..

West Coast Sick Line

Hope You All Have Nightmares, Except Kirsty

German Shepherd

Kirsty Option 2

When German Shepherd label co-conspirator Eon Morse ventured that the musical genius behind West Coast Sick Line – one Dusty Moonan – was from Colwyn Bay on a recent radio interview, there was a palpable sense of incredulity from the host about Mr Moonan’s place of residence. As if by some strange twist of fate or geographical accident that Dusty’s failure to live in Venice Beach or Upper Darby, Philadelphia, somehow diminished his capabilities, coolness or coherence. Having visited the Bay on more than one occasion, and to be more accurate it’s sub-hamlet of Rhos On Sea, I can attest to the fact that it is indeed a funky and fab place. I mean if the beatle browed brothers of bombast can come from Burnage why can’t Dusters leap forward from the windswept sand dunes of the North Wales coast?

That’s by the by of course and I’m more concerned to advise you of  the genius of this album.

It first came out in 2012, and got heavy airplay on Salford City Radio, and other places but generally went un-regarded by the great unwashed out there. The German Shepherd team have made it one of their key objectives to ensure that there is wider exposure to Mr Moonan’s body of work and will be releasing the second album “Our Name On The Door”, and a brand new album in due course.

However let’s concentrate on this one.

Of the album Dusty says:

The overriding theme of ‘Kirsty’ was a pretty bleak one. A relationship had ended acrimoniously and I found myself staying in different places without settling or feeling at home in any. I didn’t want the album to be self indulgent, or even about me per se, but more a collection of tales that all end badly. 

I had always coupled rather dark lyrics with upbeat melodies. I had been inactive for nearly five years and I was fascinated to know where I was at as a writer after such a long period. I had recorded ‘No Senor, lo siento’ as a test to see if I could get to grips with the software and without any idea of making an album at that point. 

The bass line for what would be ‘No wife, no kids’ had been whirling around my head all week until in a fit of anger I scribbled the words down after a particularly bad day at work. I knew then I had a solid theme for an album and to compound that, the title popped in there too. I had used ‘Hope you all have nightmares, except Kirsty’ as a drunken status on Facebook in reference to a former work colleague I used to find intimidating.

I now had a clear direction and real goal. 

In respect of the Moonan song-writing output  comparisons have been made with Jeff Lynne, and, Todd Rundgren. These are accurate. Moonan has the ability to write short, pithy, melodic, and memorable tunes. Add to that a sense of mischief, lyrics that encompass a particularly bitter view of humanity (at times), and,  a unique vocal style and you have, to all intents and purposes, a modern equivalent of the work of  Graham Gouldman, Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley, and Lol Creme at their very best. But Moonan adds a punk and post-punk edge to his music which takes it beyond pure pop and to darker left field place.

From the outset it’s clear that brash rhythm,  loud guitars and visceral synths are being used to grab the listeners attention and keep it. There are nine excellent songs here – lyrically strong and melodically & stylistically varied. The highlight is the brittle and fractured “This Ain’t London” a beautifully rich sound scape which holds a vehement attack on an internet correspondent – and this is a clear indicator of Moonan’s guile – he entrances you with an exquisite tuneful vocal that belies the lyrical content. Also notable is the very catchy “Vunt” which features other key WCSL member Stacey Anne Bates on vocals. Stacey’s role in the band grows over the three album run from the band and she has an excellent vocal style which adds a touch of magic to the music.  There are songs here that stay in your head for days – the love song “Callie”, the angry “Nobody’s Type” and scabrous and short closer “Dip Your Toe In The Real World, Andy”. They are all great.

The album is available as Pay What You Want on German Shepherd from 24th March 2014 via this link.

I encourage you to Dip Your Toe In The Real World of West Coast Sick Line.

Stacey and Dusty
Stacey and Dusty

Shelf Life and Water Level

KP2 Meets Loop Aznavour

Justin Bieber (Must Die)/When The River Rises

German Shepherd Records

It has to be said that when I first saw the title of one of these songs I had pause for thought. I mean, calling something “Justin Beiber (Must Die)” is pretty much an open challenge for all those “beliebers” out there to descend en masse on the German Shepherd website/Facebook page in paroxysms of incandescent rage. Fear not dear lovers of JB all is not what it seems.

Cyrus Beiber Final

As usual with the lyrical wit and wisdom of the multi-nomenclatured spirit of Moet,  the title holds a far deeper and more significant meaning. Of course neither KP2, or indeed Loop Aznavour, are seeking the demise of the pop starlet. They are instead, and in a quite poignant fashion at times, actually trying the give the young man some worldly wise advice about the pitfalls and hurdles of the Music Industry. Todd Rempling’s artwork for the piece indeed shows the metamorphosis from JB to MC (Justin to Miley for those of you not hip to these things) and the song demonstrates that once any young pop star fails to meet his or her sales figures they will be cast aside and the “management” will focus its’ wherewithal on the “next big thing”. So indeed young Justin will not die but the brand image and concept he embraced for much of his teenage years will wither and pass away into the dusty 50p bin of history, as Miley or whoever is next, fills the slot in the arena tour calender.

It was the good offices of Salford City Radio DJs – Tony Thornborough and Steve Nicholson – that brought together KP2 and Loop. The marriage was indeed made in some punk/post-punk heaven somewhere or another. Probably half-way between Ashton Under Lyne and Bury. It was quite obvious really that a theremin toting ranter with an eye and ear for the absurd in daily life would work well with Moet’s particularly sideways view of the world.

Both songs are crafted to propel KP2s mutant rant to the front – but the music and arrangement is solid. strong and supportive.

Track 2 is timely – with Gideon delivering his own particularly odd view of the future on Wednesday – but which on close examination of the detail was a pre-election stunt to attract votes – a song about the abject failure of the current administration to cope with the recent extreme weather until the stock-broker belt was at risk hits the con-dems where they need to be hit -both metaphorically and factually. The deliberate inclusion of the break-down in the recording adds to the fun going on behind the serious message and Loop’s “J Rotten” quote in the chorus is both playful and a nod back to the heady days of the mid-70s.

A couple of excellent tunes say I.

The single is available  for £1 -or more if you want – from German Shepherd  from 21st March……